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At Look at Session-Based Broad Match in AdWords

Last week the Wall Street Journal published an article addressing the subject of session-based broad match in Google AdWords.  The author covered anecdotal claims of AdWords users losing money over these unwanted clicks.  Google defends themselves in the article stating that "session-based clicks in the broad match category perform comparably to non-session-based clicks."

Session-Based Broad Match Explained

Essentially, session-based broad match occurs when your ad shows for another keyword based on the user's search history.  Google's help pages explain it best:
When determining which ads to show on a Google search result page, the AdWords system evaluates search queries performed by a user during both previous and current internet sessions. If the system detects any correlations in the two search sessions, it will show ads related to these other queries, too.
This feature is an enhancement of broad match. It works by generating similar terms for each search query based on the content of the current query and, if deemed relevant, the previous queries in a user's search session. Your ad will may show if one of your broad-matched keywords matches any of these similar terms.
 
For example, say you have a user that is researching their next vacation.  The user searches for "hotel reviews" and your ad shows up.  After they're finished researching, he may want to look up movie reviews for that weekend, so he searches "new movie reviews".  Technically, your ad can show up for the term, "movie reviews".  Both keywords are semantically related through the use of the word "reviews".

Is Session-Based Broad Match an Issue?

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  If you're campaigns are set up correctly, it's a non-issue.  Session-based broad match is a feature, not a problem.  It was designed to follow searchers through the search cycle.  If we revisit our previous example, the user, after searching "hotel reviews", could also have searched for "best hotels in myrtle beach" or "family hotels in orlando".  Both of those keywords could be relevant to your offering.  If the user is already in that research or purchase mindset, session-based ad serving is a great feature that benefits both the user and the advertiser.
 
The advertisers most at risk for losing money with session-based broad match are small businesses or one-man shows.  These companies or individuals can lack the expertise or knowledge needed to prevent wasting money in pay per click.  Session-based broad match is not discussed often, so it's easy for a novice advertiser to overlook the feature.

How to Overcome Session-Based Broad Match

As I mentioned, in order to effectively leverage the benefits of session-based broad match, your campaigns need to be set up correctly.  There are two main ways that you can avoid buying unwanted clicks:
  1. Use Other Match Types - Broad match has it's place in pay per click advertising.  If you're researching the niche, looking for new keywords, or branding, broad match keywords are a great place to start.  If you're looking for highly targeted traffic, though, use other match types.  Exact, phrase, and even modified broad match keywords will provide more targeted and relevant traffic.
  2. Negative Keywords - If you decide to use broad match keywords, be generous in your use of negative keywords.  Negative keywords act as a filter for the topics that are completely unrelated to your business.  If you are a rental car company, use negative keywords like "sales", "for sale", or "buy" when using broad match to make sure your site doesn't show to users searching for car sales.

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